Category Archives: Advent

Jenny Call: Oh, Joy

As we circled the dining room table to light our family’s Advent wreath, the kids got into a fight over who would light the pink joy candle.

I was not feeling very joyful after a full day of trying to keep them engaged and at peace along with working a few hours, attending an evening church service, and participating in our annual tradition of driving around to see the Christmas lights.

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I was tired and frustrated, and wondered why the reality of our family traditions never matched the glowing image in my head of how it “should” be. I was ready to give up on the Advent candle-lighting entirely, but my son reminded me that we had skipped our Bible story reading the night before and had promised to do two tonight.

Should it really be this hard for us to have regular devotions in a family where both parents are ordained ministers? I often feel like I’m failing in the spiritual development of my children, a difficult irony as I have devoted my life to faith and ministry.

The expectations for ministry, discipleship, and parenthood are set exceedingly high for Advent and Christmas. Not only do we preach on waiting, but on the lofty gifts of the season: hope, peace, joy, and love. Meanwhile, the only gifts my kids can think about are American Girl dolls and Legos, and the waiting is excruciating for them.

We speak about light, but our world seems engulfed in darkness as we struggle with reports of torture from within our own government, racial injustice in our law and courts, and increasing allegations of sexual misconduct in our universities.

I remind the college students I serve who are going through finals about the importance of self-care and rest, but my own calendar is full of events with little space for Sabbath renewal. We talk of the joy of the season, but so many people are grieving, hurting, and lonely. We work hard to create magical memories for our children, but worry that it will lead to selfishness and entitlement.

It can feel like too much, and the demands and expectations become a burden instead of opportunities for joy and celebration. Meanwhile we are all waiting to feel something different . . . to be fulfilled.

Our family is in the process of joining a new church. As we were talking to the Associate Rector about the membership process, she asked how the church could help support and nurture us in faith. We answered that they were already providing what we needed.

I asked (with a little hesitation) how we could better serve the church. I want to be actively involved in serving the church, and yet part of me is so weary that I wonder what I have left to give.

But her words were thoughtful and encouraging. She responded, “Just keep doing the ministry you are doing. You are doing the work already. In fact, your most important work is in the ministry of parenthood, and that is so hard. Let us feed you so that you can keep ministering to those in your care.”

I felt both the relief and the challenge in those words.

Too often, I find myself depleted and find it difficult to serve the ones closest and most important to me. I am short on patience and short on faith that the seeds we are planting will take root.

But that’s where the meaning of Advent hits me.

I have always loved the mystery and tension of the “now…but not yet” nature of waiting for something that has already happened. We share the Gospel, knowing that it is true because we have already experienced it in our own lives.

But we wait for fulfillment, when the good news will truly be born in our hearts and transform us. We light candles to remember the light that shines through us from Christ, even in the darkness that surrounds us. We wait, and yet we already have the gifts of hope, peace, joy, and love; they are just waiting to be accepted and opened.

I see these gifts in the wonder of children waiting on Christmas. I see it in my daughter who takes a communion wafer, breaks it, and whispers to me, “The body of Christ.” I hear it in my son singing wholeheartedly with the Christmas hymns. I feel it in the welcoming community of a church that accepts us for who and where we are in our journey.

I know it in the joy that is revealed to me when I understand that God is already present in our messy beautiful lives, just as they are. Emmanuel, God with us. Thanks be to God.

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Rev. Jenny Call is the chaplain at Hollins University in Virginia, a mother of two school-aged children and part of a clergy couple. Her essay, “Letting Go” appeared in A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood (www.helwys.com). She blogs at www.hopecalls.blogspot.com.   

Kerrie Clayton Jordan: A Blended and Blessed Advent

Advent is upon us, the season of waiting expectantly for the birth of the Christ-Child. Waiting for all the Christmas decorations to be put up, waiting in line to buy Christmas presents, waiting for the oven to finish baking all of our Christmas goodies.

As ministers we wait for the special worship planning, choir cantatas, and Sunday School Christmas parties to be complete. As moms, we wait for our children’s Christmas wish lists and make plans for our special family holiday traditions.

Earlier this year, I was reminded of another group of people who may be waiting for the holidays to be over! In November I was invited to attend a community memorial service hosted by our local hospice center, and I was reminded of how difficult the holiday season will be for those who have lost loved ones, who will be facing a time of “firsts” without their parent, child, or sibling. For them, the Advent and Christmas season will often be filled with tears and memories of their loved ones.

It will be a season of grief and sadness for some.

As I reflected on the grief that some families will experience this year around the holidays, I thought about my own family. We’ve not lost any close family members or friends this year, but there will inevitably be some times of grieving and sadness in our home.

Why? Because we are a step-family with children who have experienced loss through divorce. On the outside, we may look like all is well when we attend church and family functions, but every step-family is born out of loss and it becomes part of who we are.

Four years ago, I became a wife and stepmother (although I don’t particularly care for the term “step,” I just use “mom”), and in that time, I’ve noticed that the holidays are a particularly difficult time for us.

For many reasons, my kids haven’t seen or heard from their biological mother in nearly 4 and ½ years, leaving behind questions and confusion. Holidays bring about memories and serve as reminders of her instability and abandonment, as well as thoughts of past traditions that can no longer continue.

When I joined the Jordan family in December of 2010, I thought I could make the holidays better for everyone involved. For me, it meant I was no longer the only single person at holiday gatherings.

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For my husband and children, I thought it meant that their holiday could finally be complete because there was someone in charge of decorating, cooking, shopping and organizing Christmas festivities. I thought it would be an added bonus that they now had my extended family to shower them with love, gifts, and attention at Christmas.

Surely, they would appreciate this new blended, non-traditional family and we all would live happily ever after, right?

These last few years have been both rewarding and difficult. I am so blessed to have my own little family, and children always seem to make the holidays more fun; but I wasn’t prepared to deal with the grief that also lived in my house around Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, or Christmas.

As much joy as the holidays can bring, they also allow some of the stages of grief to express themselves throughout the season.

Anger is probably the grief stage I’ve seen the most in our teenager. Death of a parent is certainly difficult, but it is even more difficult when the parent chooses to walk away from his or her children. The hurt our teenager feels is one that should never be experienced, and there is no replacement for the love a child should receive from his biological mother. His family has changed, through no fault of his own, and he is mad at his mother for the choices she made.

I see bargaining most often in our younger child. She thinks that if she could just send her missing parent a present or if she could just see her and hug her, then everything would change and her mother could be “fixed.” Her innocent mind doesn’t understand the reality of the mental instability and the danger she could face.

Close to a holiday earlier in the year, she came to me with tears in her eyes and said that she’d seen a picture of her family with her “other mama” (that’s what she calls her biological mom) and that she didn’t want anyone to take it down or replace it. At this, she collapsed in my arms with giant crocodile tears as I explained that our love doesn’t always cause people to make the right choices.

The next stage of grief, depression, is also part of our holiday season. Holidays often bring up memories of traditions that had been important, and I often hear it in their voice and see it in their eyes when they talk about how those traditions changed. “I wish we could do _________ again” or “I wish we could see ______ one more time” are sentiments shared during the season.

Although grief can rear its head at any given time, it seems the holidays bring it up the most often. In the last four years I’ve been a mother, I’ve noticed that emotions are heightened and hearts are more tender around this time of year.

Advent is a busy time of year for ministers but I pray that we will all be an encouragement to those non-traditional families around us. Many families will be split up at Christmas as children divide their time between parents. Some will be grieving due to a loss to something other than death.

At a time of year when most agree that family is important, some will still be trying to figure out how to be a family again in a different situation than past years. Pray that this Advent season will be a time for blended and other non-traditional families to grow closer to one another and to find peace in the midst of loss.

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Rev. Kerrie Jordan is a wife to David and mother to Walker and Hope. She is a graduate of East Carolina University and Campbell University Divinity School, and serves as the Minister of Music at First Baptist Church in Smithfield, NC. Her essay “Once Upon a Time: the Tale of a Not-So-Wicked Stepmother” is part of A Divine Duet: Ministry and Motherhood (www.helwys.com).